Hot Wire Ammeter- Construction, Working

A hot wire ammeter measures the current flow through a wire by heating and expanding it. Although they have slow response times and poor accuracy, they can be used to gauge radio-frequency current. These devices can also measure the actual RMS for an applied AC.


The construction of a hot-wire ammeter involves a few key components that work together to measure the current through the heating effect on a wire.

  1. Wire Element: The central component is a thin wire AB tightened between two endpoints, A and B. The wire is made of a material with high resistivity. Commonly used materials include nichrome or constantan. This wire is wound into a coil or configured to have a specific shape. The wire is wrapped around cylinder D multiple times and connected to the middle point of AB. The cylinder in the circuit can rotate around its axis. A pointer labeled ‘P’ is connected to the cylinder, which moves along a graduated scale during the cylinder’s rotation. The circuit also includes a small resistance labeled ‘r,’ connected in parallel to the wire AB as a shunt. This ensures that the ammeter’s total resistance is low and does not significantly alter the current in the circuit. The points A and B are connected to the outer terminals T1 and T2.
  2. Support Structure: The wire is mounted on a support structure that allows for its expansion and movement when it heats up due to the current passing through it. The support structure must be designed to be sensitive to even small changes in the length of the wire.
  3. Current-Carrying Circuit: The current to be measured passes through the instrument via T1 and T2. As a result, the wire AB heats up due to the current flow. The temperature rise in the wire is directly proportional to the square root of the average of the square of the current (I2rms). The wire length increases due to the temperature rise, which reduces its tension. The cylinder attached to the wire rotates slightly, and the pointer deflects along the scale due to the tension in the spring on the other side. When the ammeter gets disconnected from the circuit, the wire contracts and returns to its original length, and the pointer returns to zero.
  4. Calibration Mechanism: The movement of the wire is used to actuate a pointer or a needle on a calibrated scale. The scale is marked in terms of the current being measured. The calibration is typically done by adjusting the tension or initial position of the wire.
  5. Enclosure: The entire assembly is enclosed in a protective case. The case protects the delicate components from external influences and prevents air currents that might affect the accurate measurement of the current.
  6. Power Supply: In some designs, a separate power supply may be used to ensure the wire is at a constant temperature. This can enhance the accuracy and stability of the instrument.
  7. Insulation: The wire and its support structure are usually insulated to prevent short circuits and ensure that the heat generated is effectively utilized for measurement.

Working Principle of Hot Wire Ammeter

Hot-wire ammeters, also known as thermal ammeters, operate on the principle of heating a wire to measure the current flowing through it. Here’s a basic explanation of the working principle:

  1. Current Flow Through the Wire: When current flows through a wire, it encounters resistance. According to Ohm’s Law, the amount of resistance is directly proportional to the current passing through the wire (V = I * R, where V is voltage, I is current, and R is resistance).
  2. Heating Effect: The hot-wire ammeter exploits the heating effect of the current. As current flows through the wire, the wire heats up due to its resistance. The heat produced is directly proportional to the square of the current (P = I2 * R, where P is power).
  3. Temperature Rise: When the wire’s temperature increases, it expands in length. The degree of expansion is again proportional to the heat generated, related to the current flowing through the wire.
  4. Mechanical Movement: The expansion of the wire leads to mechanical movement. This movement can actuate a pointer on a scale, which is calibrated to indicate the current flowing through the wire.
  5. Calibration: The ammeter is calibrated such that the deflection of the pointer corresponds to the amount of current passing through the wire. By observing the pointer position on the calibrated scale, the user can determine the current in the circuit.


Hot-wire ammeters, while not as commonly used as other types of ammeters, find application in specific situations where their unique characteristics are beneficial. Here are a few applications of hot-wire ammeters:

The following are the applications of a hot wire ammeter.

  1. Low Current Measurement: Hot-wire ammeters are particularly useful for measuring low currents. Their sensitivity to small changes in current makes them suitable for applications where high precision is required, especially in the microampere or milliampere range.
  2. Laboratory Experiments: Hot-wire ammeters are sometimes employed in laboratory setups and experiments where the goal is to measure small currents accurately. Their sensitivity and ability to measure low current levels make them valuable in educational and research environments.
  3. Calibration Standards: Due to their precision, hot-wire ammeters can be used as standards for calibrating other measuring instruments. In calibration labs, they may serve as a reference for verifying and adjusting the accuracy of other ammeters or current-measuring devices.
  4. Measurement of Pulsed or Fluctuating Currents: Hot-wire ammeters can respond relatively quickly to changes in current. This characteristic makes them suitable for measuring pulsed or fluctuating currents where rapid response is essential.
  5. Specialized Electronics Testing: In certain electronic testing applications, especially those involving low-level signals or sensitive electronic components, hot-wire ammeters may be used to measure currents without introducing significant loading effects on the circuit being tested.
  6. High Resistance Circuits: Hot-wire ammeters typically have high internal resistance, which can be advantageous when measuring currents in high-resistance circuits. This characteristic minimizes the impact of the ammeter on the circuit being measured.
  7. Historical and Educational Purposes: While modern electronic measuring instruments are more commonly used today, hot-wire ammeters are sometimes employed for educational purposes to illustrate the principles of current measurement and the heating effect in conductors.

Advantages of Hot-Wire Ammeters:

The advantages of a hot wire ammeter are listed below.

  1. High Sensitivity: Hot-wire ammeters are highly sensitive to small current changes, making them suitable for measuring low currents with high precision.
  2. Low Damping: Hot-wire ammeters typically have low damping, allowing them to respond relatively quickly to changes in current. This characteristic is advantageous in applications where rapid response is essential.
  3. Simple Construction: The construction of hot-wire ammeters is relatively simple compared to other ammeters. This simplicity can contribute to cost-effectiveness and ease of maintenance.
  4. High Input Impedance: Hot-wire ammeters generally have high input impedance, which means they introduce minimal loading effects on the measured circuit. This is particularly useful when measuring currents in high-resistance circuits.

Disadvantages of Hot-Wire Ammeters:

The following are the disadvantages of a hot wire ammeter.

  1. Limited Measurement Range: Hot-wire ammeters are typically limited to measuring low to moderate currents. Their application is impractical for high-current measurements, as excessive current can lead to overheating and damage to the wire.
  2. Drift Over Time: The accuracy of hot-wire ammeters can be affected by drift over time. Changes in the characteristics of the wire, such as oxidation or mechanical wear, can lead to variations in performance.
  3. Temperature Dependency: The accuracy of hot-wire ammeters is influenced by temperature changes. Variations in ambient temperature can affect the resistance of the wire and, consequently, the accuracy of current measurements.
  4. Mechanical Wear and Fatigue: The repeated heating and cooling of the wire during operation can lead to mechanical wear and fatigue, affecting the long-term reliability of the instrument.
  5. Response Time: While hot-wire ammeters can respond quickly to current changes, their response time may be slower than modern electronic ammeters. This limitation can be a drawback in applications where extremely fast response times are crucial.
  6. Complex Calibration: Achieving accurate and stable calibration for hot-wire ammeters can be complicated. The tension and initial position of the wire must be carefully adjusted to ensure reliable and repeatable measurements.


The hot wire ammeter measures AC or DC based on the thermal expansion of a wire. The wire is heated by passing an electric current through it, and the resulting heat is proportional to the square of the DC or RMS value of the AC.

Leave a Comment